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September 21, 2006

Genocide survivors turn into lobbyists for Darfur

http://www.jewishjournal.com/community_briefs/article/genocide_survivors_turn_into_lobbyists_for_darfur_20060922

Survivors of genocide and Janice Kamenir-Reznik of Jewish World Watch wear wristbands that read: Do Not Stand Idly By-- Save Darfur.

Survivors of genocide and Janice Kamenir-Reznik of Jewish World Watch wear wristbands that read: Do Not Stand Idly By-- Save Darfur.

Eli Wiesel and George Clooney have spoken out about it. Protesters have rallied against it. Even an online game seeks to draw attention to the ongoing genocide in Sudan's Darfur.
 
Now, a local group is taking a different approach to turning the world's eyes toward the Sudanese government-sponsored violence that has left hundreds of thousands dead, more than 2 million displaced, villages destroyed and tens of thousands of women beaten and raped.
 
Jewish World Watch, a consortium of 44 synagogues in Southern California committed to fighting genocide, has decided that it is time to put a face to the anonymous victims.
 
Last week, the group assembled survivors of attempted genocides around the world, including the Holocaust and the mass killings of Bosnians, Cambodians, Armenians and Kurdish Iraqis. Volunteers and survivors boarded a couple of vans and embarked on what they called a "caravan of peace."
 
Timed to coincide with the opening of the 61st session of the United Nations General Assembly, Jewish World Watch arranged for the survivors to meet with diplomats from seven U.N. member countries.
 
One group of survivors met with officials from Great Britain, Greece and France in the morning, while another group met with representatives from Spain, Argentina, South Africa and Peru in the afternoon. All the countries but Spain and South Africa are members of the U.N. Security Council, which has the power to make decisions that U.N. member countries are required to carry out.
 
As the first group gathered in Brentwood, Janice Kamenir-Reznik, president of Jewish World Watch, reminded the team of its mission.
 
The Security Council has authorized the deployment of peacekeepers to Darfur, she explained, but the Sudanese government has refused to accept the troops. The goal for the day, she said, was to ask diplomats, "if Sudan continues to say no, will the United Nations send peacekeepers anyway?"
 
"If not, there will be another 100,000 ... dead in a few weeks," Kamenir-Reznik said.
 
Lucy Deutsch, a 76-year-old Holocaust survivor who was sent to Auschwitz at age 14, said she was ready for the challenge.
 
"I want them to urge their governments to do something with Darfur immediately. Now. Even if they have to jump on their desks in the U.N.," Deutsch said. "The people in Darfur shouldn't have the same end that we had in Auschwitz."
 
Deutsch climbed into the van along with Chhang Song, a 67-year-old survivor of Cambodia's killing fields, and Luqman Barwari, a 44-year-old former refugee from Southern Kurdistan, or northern Iraq.
 
Kamenir-Reznik took a seat at the front and had everyone put on green wristbands, which read: Do Not Stand Idly By -- Save Darfur.
 
The group's first stop: the British consulate. In the lobby, Kamenir-Reznik said she believed the day's work would make a difference.
 
"Advocacy involves taking many different strategies at the same time," she said. "I don't feel at all demoralized. I really believe ... everything you do will build upon everything else."
 
And then, there they were, face-to-face with British Vice Consul Angus Mackay. "Here we have the different faces of genocide from the past 100 years," Kamenir-Reznik told him. "Not only were they victims of horrible governments," she said, "but they were also victims of the world standing by."
 
The survivors introduced themselves and told their stories. "Auschwitz and Darfur are melting together in my mind," Deutsch said.
 
"It's about time to take out the English hammer and knock some sense into the U.N. to act immediately," she said.
 
Mackay promised to relay the group's concerns to Washington and London. He said he would do some research and send along the British government's latest policy statements about Darfur.
 
So far, so good, the group concluded, and it was on to the next meeting, at the Greek consulate. Consul General Dimitris Caramitsos-Tziras greeted the group warmly and spoke with a sense of resignation, or perhaps, realism.
 
"The trouble spots around the world are growing in number, and so the demand for help is also growing," he said. The high-demand has become "a serious strain on human resources." Although Greece holds the presidency of the Security Council this month, "one country alone cannot influence the balance in a high-powered body like the Security Council," he said.
 
Still, the diplomat took notes. He, too, pledged to pass along the group's message "to the authorities" and respond with feedback.
 
"We're listening," he said, "and hopefully, we'll be acting."
 
For Kamenir-Reznik, a promise to listen and relay the message was enough. But Holocaust survivor Deutsch expressed frustration.
 
"I am not a politician nor a diplomat," she said, "but if I would be a U.N. member, you would hear my voice screaming, not just talking."
 
Where were the strong, impassioned words she wanted to hear? Why was no one screaming?
 
Finally, it was time to meet with a diplomat from France, a country that, like the United Kingdom, holds a permanent seat on the Security Council. Francois-Xavier Tilliette, deputy consul general, welcomed the group into his office.
 
"France is very concerned," Tilliette said. "We need an urgent solution.... We must not turn a blind eye to this crime against humanity."
 
Deutsch smiled. "He used the words I wanted to hear," she said after the meeting.
 
The morning's work complete, the group offered its reflections on the day. "I would give up a week of work for this," said the Kurdish Barwari, a scientist at Amgen.
 
"If we can save one person," Deutsch said, "we've achieved our goal."

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